THE Sandford St Martin Trust has said that diversity in broadcasting should include “full representation of faith and faith minorities”, in response to the Government’s BBC Charter White Paper, published last week.
In it, the Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, set out a Royal Charter outlining plans for the BBC over the next 11 years.
The main reforms are: the scrapping of the BBC Trust, so that OFCOM takes over its regulatory duties; the National Audit Office becoming its financial auditor; the creation of a new governing body to include six Government appointees; distinction of content; and the disclosure of the salaries of BBC employees who are paid more than £450,000.
A Sandford St Martin trustee and television producer, Roger Bolton, said: “We regret that in the revised public purposes of the BBC there is no specific reference to promoting religious literacy, which we believe is vital for the future well-being of society, and we urge the Government to think again.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, who chairs the Trust, said that “religion needs to be taken more seriously by the BBC in its future shape and remit. Religion is a prime motivator of individuals and communities, inspiring and informing their political, economic, ethical, and social behaviour — probably, also, their emotional engagement with what is going on in the world and in them.”
In a press release last week, the Trust said that the BBC’s existing coverage “needs significant improvement”, and that it would “advocate the introduction of a new public purpose for the BBC”: the promotion of religious literacy, whereby “audiences can rely on the BBC to reflect the many religious communities that exist in the UK, with the aim of building a better understanding of the beliefs people hold both between those communities and by the UK audiences as a whole.”
This week, the head of religion and ethics at the BBC, Aaqil Ahmed, told a Commons meeting on religious literacy that the broadcaster’s programmes were disproportionately Christian, and should include programmes on other faiths. The findings of a report on religious output by Mr Ahmed are currently being considered by the Director-General of the BBC, Lord Hall.
Mr Ahmed, who is Muslim, said in a statement to The Sunday Times, however, that “Christianity remains the cornerstone of our output, and there are more hours dedicated to it than there are to other faiths. . .
”Our output in this area is not static, though. It has evolved over the years, and we regularly assess it. We do look at the number of hours we produce, and measure that against the religious make-up of society.”
The assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, has suggested that the BBC could televise Friday prayers from a mosque, as a Muslim alternative to Songs of Praise.